Allerton’s Peony Garden showcases nearly 70 named varieties and thousands of blooms for families to enjoy
Editor’s Note: Some areas of Allerton Park may be closed or otherwise have limited access. As of May 4, the Peony Garden is open to the public, but the Visitor’s Center, Greenhouse Café, and most restrooms are closed. See Allerton’s Facebook page for the most recent visitor guidelines.
Allerton Park and Retreat Center in Monticello, owned by the University of Illinois, is billed as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois. Whoever makes these lists has probably visited Allerton during the month of May, when the Peony Garden is at the peak of its flowery magnificence.
Robert Allerton and his family built and maintained the Allerton estate and its gardens, mostly during the 1920s and ’30s, before deeding the property to the University of Illinois in 1946. The peony, already featured in its own garden, was supposedly one of Robert’s favorite flowers. The Peony Garden was revived in the early 2000s following a period of neglect, and thanks to continued financial support from donors it thrives today and is nationally renowned among peony lovers.
Know before you go
— Peonies most commonly bloom in Illinois around Mother’s Day in mid-May, but the multiple varieties (almost 70!) planted at Allerton generate almost continual bloom from late April all the way into June. Check Allerton’s handy bloom guides, here and here, to see what other flowers may be blooming during your visit.
— Other areas of Allerton’s grounds are probably more appealing to little ones, either for the fanciful statues, the long gravel paths, or the uninterrupted swaths of grass. The Peony Garden will definitely appeal more to your budding botanist (ha!), although the garden does feature one famous sculpture, a replica of the Louvre’s “Three Graces” by Germain Pilon. If you come to Allerton with young companions, we advise you subject them to the Peony Garden first, before you break out the snacks and let them loose to explore elsewhere.
— Closest parking to the Peony Garden is located off Old Timber Road, in the Visitor’s Center Parking Lot. The Visitor’s Center is unstaffed; when open, it is a self-guided resource with maps, displays, restrooms, and beverage vending. There is no admission charge to Allerton, although donations are encouraged.
— For many years, adventurous visitors could view the Peony Garden from above on a raised walkway. To the relief of most parents, access to that wall has been closed for decades due to disrepair.
— Adjacent to the Peony Garden, the Bulb Garden offers a similar abundance of blooms per step, if that’s your thing. Renewal of this area began in 2016 and the garden is maintained in memory of U of I professor Mark E. Roszkowski. Its design uses principles of landscape architecture from Robert Allerton’s time, and uses both bulbs and annual plants to ensure continuous blooming throughout the season. So even if you miss the blooming window of the Peony Garden, there will still be plenty of floral beauty at Allerton for you to enjoy.
— Inspired to plant a peony at home? As perennials, peonies reliably come back every year. Some peonies happily last decades in the same spot. They thrive in full sun to part shade, prefer an area with well-drained soil, and stay largely disease-free if you remove the dead foliage in the fall. Taller varieties can benefit from some anti-flopping support (like those green rings people sometimes stake above them in the spring); otherwise just leave them alone. Choose a fragrant variety if you can — they smell heavenly — and if the nursery tag says it is resistant to powdery mildew, so much the better.